Adam Green: The Dark Side Of Cartooning

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story + photographs / Gina Tron

“I consider myself a faggot because people have called me that ever since I can remember. In an attempt to reverse this psychic pain, I’ve welcomed that term into my life and now think of it as a compliment.”  – Adam Green
Switching up the meaning of things, changing how one interprets and processes a symbol. That is the idea behind Adam Green’s Cartoon and Complaint, a series of mixed media and paintings in which cartoons are used as a tool to illustrate irony and symbol-shifting. “A lot of the show is about reappropriation,” Adam told me, “taking symbols and cartoons and making my own version of what they look and feel like.”

Red Hook’s The Intercourse is housing Adam’s art until June 17th (viewing by appointment only). I went to the opening reception on Saturday June 9th to check out the end-product of drug visions and drawings. His collection, which took 2 years to compile walks a fine line between the playful and the morose. The childlike, and at times kindergarten-kitsch style drip with a sort of visual innocence despite some of the morbid themes (like 9/11). “To me this show is about bruised cartoons. A lot of the paintings have a sort of bruised coloring to them. Its like the dark side of cartooning.”
His collection featured some psychedelic Sesame Street inspired acrylics on foamcore and canvas. For example, Bird Godhead & Bird Godhead Complaint both take the image of Big Bird and transform the childhood icon into a Hindu God of sorts. “This is as if you died and saw Big Bird,” Adam joked. And in true kids-show fashion, he made multiple paintings that feature another terrifying depiction of a Sesame Street character, Elmo.  Red Cartoon Stacked features Elmo with stacked layers of eyeballs. “I had a DMT experience where things had all these eyes, so I called it stacked. It’s become a part of my aesthetic.“ It’s become part of his aesthetic indeed, he having incorporated this eye-popping style into numerous works, including Hospital Bed. Hospital Bed is a piece that incorporates his knack for capturing delirious states in addition to stacked eyes and cartoonish creations that at times almost seem reminiscent of Picasso.   “I always felt like Picasso worked in cartoons and caricatures.”

Adam’s crayon drawings, the result of a collaborative effort with Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes were also noteworthy. But, no painting better demonstrates reappropriation more than his acrylic that meshes Disney’s Aladdin with the 9/11 tragedy. It’s entitled Flying Rug Ride, and features Aladdin and Jasmine getting cozy while the twin towers burn in the background. “I had a conversation with a girl who was about 10 years younger than me.  She said she never really got into Aladdin because of the ‘whole 9/11 thing’. She said she didn’t grow up with an Arabian nights fantasy. So I thought that’s really funny. I paint this sort of scene which takes place in her little girl brain to show how some symbols can get reapproriated for a different generation.” Well, my recollection of watching Aladdin as a pre-teen has just been annihilated; my memory of my junior high school friends singing “A Whole New World” blown to smithereens, thanks to Adam.  Not that I mind. It was a pretty shitty memory anyway; it needed a good old fashioned reappropriation makeover. But.. Seriously? Who on earth wouldn’t be into Aladdin because of the whole “9/11 thing”?! People truly do place meanings on certain symbols, often inappropriately so, which only further proves Adam’s point. Adam considers himself to be a symbolist. He also considers himself to be an expressionist artist.

Expressing himself musically since he was a teenager, Adam is known primarily for his role in the anti-folk movement, and for having been a member of the The Moldy Peaches. The anti-folk movement is one that mocks the pretension in the music scene and replaces it with sharp snarkiness and biting humor. It’s also known for taking the politically charged folk music of the sixties and subverting it. Thus, the themes that flow throughout his musical process are quite similar to that of his visual art.

It was very appropriate then that Adam performed musically on Saturday, and it was a performance that was quite enjoyable and laughter-inducing; his lyrics being as captivating and comical as his art pieces. Some Red Hook locals wandered into the art space during Adam’s performance, their wide eyes expressing as much curiosity towards the event as the eyes of the toddlers that they carried in. But the curiosity soon turned to horror when Adam began delving into the clever boundary-pushing lyrics that he is famous for. “Do some blow with me. Do some blow with me. I’m looking for a friend to put a hole in me. All we’re saying is the lights are down low. All we’re saying is it’s everybody’s blow.” As he crooned out his single “Do Some Blow,” I watched the children get removed at an ultrasonic speed. He also performed other such cheeky classics as “Tropical Island” and “Dance With Me.”

Adam Green was was sporting a western themed outfit for the event, making himself out to be a bit like a cartoon character. The cowboy stated that, “I want to have fluidity between what I’m doing with music and visually, and in all aspects. And I feel comfortable mixing them. I don’t really see a difference between any of the mediums.. I could do a lot of them really comfortably.”   He began searching for this unifying theory of art while shooting the the experimental film Ferrari.  The movie, which marked Adam’s directorial debut, was shot entirely on an IPhone and starred Macaulay Culkin, who was in attendance on Saturday.
“I want to be a cartoonist,” Adam tells me. “Its [Cartoon and Complaint] kind of cartoon based but I don’t know if anyone could consider me a cartoonist after this show… but maybe. My hope is that somebody could consider me to be a cartoonist.” Well, it’s sure hard not to seeing how virtually everything on him and coming out of him is ironic and cartoonish in nature. He’s a real character and a real great creator of character as well!

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